Obtaining a proper read on retail sales in the U.S. and Canada these days has been made harder by the sharp drop in gasoline prices, -20.7% year over year south of the border and -13.1% on the north side.
As a result, February’s cash register ‘take’ by gas station operators in the U.S. was -15.6% year over year, while in Canada, in January, it was -7.1%. (Retail sales data from Statistics Canada consistently lags results from the Census Bureau by a month.)
Therefore, U.S. retail sales in February that were +3.1% year over year in total including gas station billings, were a much better +4.8% without them.
Similarly in Canada, an already good jump in total retail sales in January of +6.8% improved to an outstanding +7.3% when sales at the pump were omitted.
A significant milestone has just been reached in the U.S. labor market. For the latest week ending February 27th, America’s initial jobless claims figure was less than 300,000 for the 52nd week in a row.
That’s a whole year of strong success in keeping the number of people newly unemployed quite low. (In the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the number topped off at 670,000.)
Falling below their 300,000 benchmark level, rosy initial jobless claims automatically imply encouraging news from the Employment Situation Report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS has just reported that in February, the total number of jobs in the U.S. rose by 242,000, where a gain of 200,000 or more is considered bullish.
The national unemployment rate stayed below 5.0% at 4.9%, the same as in January. A year ago, it had been 5.5%.
In another positive sign, the proportion of working-age people who actively sought employment in February moved a little higher, to 62.9%. This measure is called the ‘participation rate’ and it usually picks up when job prospects are good.
(On the flip side, when job prospects are abysmal, people stop looking for work and the result is a ‘discouraged worker’ effect.)
The multi-family market is where the excitement is to be found in the U.S. and Canadian city housing starts markets.
Table 6 shows some strikingly large percentage gains in multi-family starts from 2014 to 2015, with New York (+109.6%) – already busting at the seams with high-rise towers – more than doubling its annual volume of groundbreakings.
Miami (+60.4%) and Dallas-Fort Worth (+54.4%) recorded year-over-year multi-unit starts increases that were ahead by more than half. While Miami has staged a nice recovery (to 16,000 units in 2015) in multi-unit starts since its disastrous level (only 1,600 units) in the Great Recession year of 2009, it still remains considerably below its 15-year previous best figure of 23,300 units in 2005.
Dallas, on the other hand, in 2015 (28,000 multi-family units) shot well past its prior most stellar year (18,400 units in 2008).
Boston (+42.5%), Los Angeles (+34.2%) and San Francisco (+30.5%), in 2015, had multi-family starts levels that were close to or better than one-third higher than in 2014. (more…)
In the previous Economy at a Glance, there was an examination of ‘total’ housing starts in the largest urban centers in the U.S. and Canada.
2015 ‘actuals’ and year-over-year percent changes were laid out in two tables for 12 cities south of the border and six on the northern side.
The figures are being called ‘starts’, although for the U.S. centers they are actually derived from residential building permits.
The city definitions are based on broad boundaries that include downtown cores and nearby suburbs with close commuting ties.
In this current EAAG, the focus will be narrowed to the single-family market.
Nation-wide in the U.S., single-family starts are now accounting for about two-thirds of total starts, with multiples making up the other 33%. (In Canada last year, the proportions were the reverse, 35% for singles and 65% for multiples.)
The share in the U.S. taken by ‘singles’ has dropped dramatically over the past several years. A decade ago, it wasn’t uncommon for singles to be as much as 80% of total starts.
Based on the latest ‘actuals’ from Statistics Canada, the spring 2016 forecasts, out to 2019, of construction capital spending − also known as put-in-place investment – have just been calculated by CanaData.
Versus the fall of 2015, the year-over-year projections have mostly been scaled back.
Grand total constant dollar (i.e., adjusted for inflation) construction will decline a further 3.1% in 2016 after a drop of 3.4% in 2015. 2017 will see a slight improvement of +1.0%, followed by +3.5% in 2018 and +4.3% in 2019.
In the fall of last year, the comparable percentage changes were: 2015, -2.2%; 2016, +0.5%; 2017, +2.7%; and 2018, +4.1%. There was no 2019 forecast at that time.
In current dollars, 2015’s grand total was $285 billion, or -2.4% compared with $292 billion in 2014.
After a further 1.8% decline in this current year, 2016 will chalk up a volume of slightly less than $280 billion.
Current dollar gains of 2.9% and 5.6% in 2017 and 2018 respectively will finally lift the total dollar value of all Canadian put-in-place construction activity above $300 billion two years from now.
CMD announced today that January’s level of U.S. construction starts, excluding residential work, was $24.7 billion, an increase of 9.8% versus December. The nearly double-digit percentage increase was noteworthy since there is usually (i.e., average over 10-years-plus) a December-to-January decline, due to seasonality, of 8.5%.
Compared with January of 2015, the latest month’s starts level was +12.9%. Relative to average non-residential starts in January over the preceding five years, 2011 to 2015, the gain was +18.6%.
The starts figures throughout this report are not seasonally adjusted (NSA). Nor are they altered for inflation. They are expressed in what are termed ‘current’ as opposed to ‘constant’ dollars.
‘Non-residential building’ plus ‘engineering/civil’ work accounts for a considerably larger share of total construction than residential activity. The former’s combined proportion of total put-in-place construction in the Census Bureau’s December report was 63%; the latter’s was 37%. (more…)
My favorite meal when traveling on business or pleasure used to be breakfast in the hotel where I was staying. In the ‘old days’, a morning repast was almost invariably cheap, plentiful and delicious.
Last summer, I took my family to Chicago for some wonderful sightseeing. We live in Toronto. (Our oldest child has moved out of the house and he and his girlfriend undertake their own travel adventures.)
The price of the breakfast buffet where we were registered downtown was $32.50 USD. For the four of us, that would have come to $130.00 USD.
Such a charge would have been steep enough on its own. Factor in the value of the Canadian dollar at the time, and the price was going to be $160.00 CAD.
Consider the further devaluation in the loonie since then, and the pain rises to $185.00 CAD.
That’s serious coinage. It’s nearly enough to rent a tuxedo, which I’ve always considered to be an excursion into luxury land. (more…)
Spending time in U.S. stock markets lately has not been a walk in the park. Drooping equity prices are a symptom of assorted maladies. The three that stand out most prominently are as follows. First, a great many people are worried about China’s economy and especially the state of its banking sector. There are thought to be way too many shaky loans in danger of crumbling if growth continues to decelerate. The subsequent drop in value of the yuan won’t be pretty.
Second, on account of a shockingly low international price for oil, investment in the U.S. energy sector has gone into a tailspin, affecting certain regions of the country more severely than others.
And third, the uplift in value of the U.S. dollar is limiting the ability of American manufacturers to win export sales. Some of the nation’s biggest firms are being negatively affected the most.
Following up on the subject of Canadian construction material costs, this Economy at a Glance concentrates on seven graphs.
Graph 1: Softwood lumber prices in Canada rose rapidly throughout 2012, but over the past three years, they have stayed mainly flat. The U.S.-Canada softwood lumber agreement (SLA), after being in effect for nine years, was allowed to expire in October of last year.
Participants in Canada wanted to see continuation of the SLA under the same terms as originally negotiated. The U.S. industry has been wishing for a re-calibration of provisions.
Under the SLA, quotas and/or export taxes were to be imposed on Canadian producers when prices fell below a benchmark range. Individual provinces were allowed to choose their own form of regulation. Additional disputes were argued on several occasions before the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA).
Without the SLA, as shown by the long history of contentious wrangling prior to its 2006 implementation, there is considerable potential for legal action that will disrupt North American lumber markets. (more…)